What is the most common mistake that beginners photographers make? I've heard and read all sorts of answers so I hope you don't mind if I take a shot at it.
For me the reason behind beginners failure is the same reason behind great photographers success:
Beginners expect cameras to look at things the way people do.
Great photographers look at things the way cameras do.
Suppose you're standing on top of a cliff, at noon, looking down the beach and the ocean. Pleasure takes over your senses. You feel the sea breeze brushing gently against your face. You hear the waves as they crush against the beach. You hear the seagulls as they follow the fishing boat. You smell the ocean and the fresh air. Your eyes easily adjust to the light, allowing you to enjoy every single detail.
No, I'm not trying to be poetic, I couldn't even if I'd tried. I´m just pointing out how incredibly sophisticated our perception of the world really is.
Now, if the person on top of the cliff is not an experienced photographer, what happens next? You got it, here comes the camera, or the phone for that matter, the shutter gets pressed and a photo is taken. Once again a beautiful vista becomes a very disappointing picture.
Why is this photo such a disappointment? We could point out lots of reasons but for me the main one is this:
The photographer was not trying to capture the actual subject, instead the photographer was trying to transfer to the camera all the pleasure he or she was feeling at that moment and the camera is not aware of that.
Now let's look at the same scene through the camera's perspective:
It´s noon so the camera can't handle the the very contrasting light. The fishing boat is too small to become a focal point. On top of the cliff there's no foreground element to lead the eye. The sky has no drama and the sea is too quite. And by the way, all the poetic stuff I said before about our senses, the camera gets none of that.
So, was the vista beautiful or not so much?
It was until a camera was picked up. The moment we try to replace our very sophisticated perception by a very limited gadget, at that moment the scene became average at best.
That's why it's so important to learn how cameras "look" at things, be familiar with it's limitations, so we can distinguish between a potencial photograph and when to keep the camera in the bag.
The photo on top was taken in Carcavelos - Cascais. I've included this photo as an example of understanding the camera limitations and working the scene. Sometimes the photographer has to help the camera achieve all its potencial. The camera can't deal with contrasting light, I got to the beach around 5:00 am. A photo lacks a third dimension, I carefully looked for some rocks to add a foreground element and convey some depth. The sky had no drama that morning, I strategically left the sky out. You might not even like the photo and that's fine but hopefully you get the idea.